Stigma against vegans investigated by Lancashire student who says 'I'm not just another moaning vegan’

A Lancashire university student has used her dissertation to study 'stigma' faced by people with a vegan diet after witnessing 'public ridicule'.

Monday, 17th May 2021, 1:15 pm
Updated Monday, 17th May 2021, 1:18 pm

Hannah Howard who is currently studying a Masters in Social Science at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, carried out a questionnaire to find out if vegans in the north west faced stigma surrounding their diet

The student is a vegan herself and says she has witnessed stigma surrounding veganism 'first-hand'.

“I love being a vegan and I think the UK is a great place to be one," Hannah said, "However, I have seen first-hand that some people are happy to ridicule vegans in public."

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Hannah Howard decided to study the stigma associated with a vegan diet for her dissertation after witnessing it herself.
Hannah Howard decided to study the stigma associated with a vegan diet for her dissertation after witnessing it herself.

Unlike vegetarians, vegans choose not to consume any animal products including meat, fish, eggs, dairy and even honey in some cases. Some also choose not to wear animal products such as leather and wool.

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Many choose this lifestyle due to their beliefs surrounding animal rights and the associated health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet.

Student Hannah said: “While I don’t want to make out that life is difficult for vegans, I did want to work out whether the stigma can be proven to exist, how common it is, where it comes from and what vegan’s experiences of it are."

Her study found that some did not understand what a vegan diet was and that vegans face several stereotypes.

“I started off with a questionnaire given out to members of the public," said Hannah, "Straight away it showed there was a stigma.

"There were many people who simply didn’t care or understand what a vegan was, which is fine, but what also came through were a lot of stereotypes about preachy, hippy vegans looking to make a scene.”

After finding these examples of vegan stigma and stereotypes, Hannah set out to interview vegans about their daily lives and spoke to people who noted regular negative comments from non-vegans.

“While no one I spoke to had suffered any serious abuse almost everyone reported negative behaviour towards them," Hannah said.

"Examples given were of other people rolling their eyes, saying vegans are 'pushy' or 'judgmental' and also social media comments and online memes making fun of various parts of the vegan lifestyle.

“While none of this is serious or dangerous it was clear that it was a very common occurrence. Most of the people I interviewed expressed ‘having to put up with it’ or being tired of hearing comments which is sad to see.”

Hannah also looked at the way vegans deal with any stigma they may face and how they respond to it.

She found a range of techniques and separated them into four categories of acceptance, avoidance, reduction and denial.

“Acceptance is when vegans just ‘let it go’ and say nothing," Hannah said.

"Rejection means gently challenging the idea, maybe with a joke, a comeback or just telling someone to stop it and reduction is a vegan accepting the stigma but trying to distance themselves from it, a typical example would be saying 'I’m not one of those vegans'.

"Denial is when a vegan really tries to argue against the stigma and gets embroiled in a heated debate about the subject."

Through her questionnaire, Hannah found that most vegans opted for what she called the 'easiest response' of 'acceptance' by deciding not to challenge stereotypes.

“While I’m sure some people will write my research off as ‘just another moaning vegan’, I hope it makes people questions their stigma against vegans," she said.

The study was conducted for Hannah’s dissertation as part of her Human Geography course at Edge Hill University and was published in the Geoverse Geography Research Journal.

Hannah has decided to continue her journey by studying a Masters in Social Science at the university where she will continue her research into veganism and the lives of vegans.